Let them tweet cake: Bonding through food via social media
Twitter users’ #FirstWorldProblems regularly involve food. Food is a culinary thread that connects all human beings. Social media users have embraced foodie culture and created their own online community.
The #FirstWorldProblems of Twitter users center around food. In fact, people tweet using the word “food” every hour with this hashtag.
Historically, people have united around food. It is often the center of celebrations for achievements, holidays and weddings. Discussions of these experiences with others regularly encompass who was there, what was said and what food was served.
The act of sharing distinguishes humans from other animals. Food, being a basic human need, gives everyone in society a communal topic that can be discussed anywhere and with anyone.
The popularity of social media as a communications tool has made sharing experiences with others easy. As a result, users often tell those in their networks about daily occurrences. The saturation of food on social media suggests people still have the need to connect through cuisine.
Family dinner has been declining for several decades. Although people may be less inclined to gather around the dinner table, culinary social media posts reflect the humanistic need to engage others through food. A post of one’s dinner has the ability to evoke nostalgia from viewers about Sunday family dinners at grandma’s, a favorite family recipe passed down for generations, or about that time the viewer drove two hours to Chinatown just to eat an egg roll.
When one shares a food-related experience, it can easily incite empathy from the recipients. For example, those who would be considered strangers are suddenly able to relate to one another over the shame of indulging in an entire half-gallon of chocolate ice cream out of the carton while binge watching One Tree Hill on Netflix for three days straight.
The mass production of food products may be controversial, but the crunch of Cheetos, the peculiar white center of chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, and the patriotic feeling of eating a grilled hot dog or hamburger enables people to connect over common food experiences in the United States.
Social eating with an Iron Chef
Iron Chef Marc Forgione says he has always been drawn to the allure of food. “For as long as I can remember I was always curious about what was going on on the stove,” he says.
As the son of Larry Forgione, “The Godfather of American Cuisine,” Forgione says he often found himself wandering around his father’s restaurant kitchens in awe. “Going into my dad’s restaurant’s kitchen when I was a kid was like going to an amusement park. I loved everything: the noise; the lights.”
Forgione says food’s role in society is more than one of sustenance. “There’s nothing older than ‘breaking bread’ to get people together in good times and bad times,” he says. “Some of the best decisions and worst decisions, some of the most important and least important, have been made over the course of a meal.”
Iron Chef Marc Forgione with one of his creations
Photo courtesy of Zagat Buzz
He says that before social media, the only way people could become familiar with his food was by visiting his restaurants or website, but that has since changed because of social media’s visual features. “Now people get to see our new creations on a nightly basis, creating ‘food porn’… and porn sells.”
Forgione recognizes that food functions not just as physical nourishment but nourishment of the soul as well, “More times than not, food makes people happy; and a happy table of people usually is a great table to be at.”
The Web’s easy access to information and the popularity of food on social media has contributed to a rise in recipe use. More than half of all millennials, the highest percentage of social media users, follow a recipe to prepare meals at least once a week.
Foodie success story Ree Drummond tapped into this vein by sharing stories and images about her experiences of preparing rancher-approved meals for her family in Oklahoma.
In 2009, her blog The Pioneer Woman seduced 13 million viewers per month through recipes such as short rib sandwiches and pepperoni pizza burgers. Even her simple recipe of homemade applesauce has almost ten thousand repins on Pinterest.
Purcell has no set number but she tries to post at least one Instagram photo a day. Her most popular posts? “Anything dessert,” Purcell says.
She doesn’t just post images; Purcell regularly interacts with fellow Instagram users “for daily inspiration.”
Of social media’s foodie community, Purcell says that she “doesn’t think it’s a trend that will go away quickly and hopefully it doesn’t because food is so important on many different levels and brings a joy to so many people.”
Hashtags and hugging hormones
The sharing of food resembles a hug or kiss. The experience of bonding through food with those outside one’s nuclear family makes humans unique to any other mammal. Such biological relationship-building acts are linked to a rise in oxytocin — nicknamed “the love hormone.” Oxytocin is also released when receiving notifications on social media.
This means that a food photo on Instagram can translate to a virtual hug; a recipe repin on Pinterest is an extended handshake; and each retweet of a #FirstWorldProblem about steak being too big for the frying pan is a virtual high-five in solidarity.
Sharing food – both online and offline – is an outstretched hand, ready to join with another to sing kumbaya around a plate of freshly baked cookies … while using the other hand to figure out which Instagram filter makes the cookies look more mouthwatering to followers.